The 2022 NRL season rolls into Round 4 with an optimistic outlook for the Titans, a dim view of Mitchell Barnett's judiciary hearing and a shrewd move in naming Billy Slater's assistant coaches for the State of Origin series.
We tackle some of the big talking points in the latest edition of NRL Real or Not.
The Gold Coast Titans could have a bright future
Real: Despite their role in an absolutely dire game against the Tigers on Thursday night, this Gold Coast Titans side could still turn into a good team. Just not this year.
They're very inconsistent -- just take a look at last week's bizarre 24-22 loss to Canberra when they managed to blow a 22-0 lead. But that's to be expected with a team as young as this one. Captain Tino Fa'asuamaleaui is 22 years old. Superstar forward David Fifita -- often the focus of criticism when the Titans play poorly -- is also 22. Fullback Jayden Campbell is another 22-year-old, halves Toby Sexton and AJ Brimson are 21 and 23 respectively. Hooker Erin Clark has played 34 NRL games and been a first-choice hooker for just four of them.
All the key players for this team are under the age of 25, meaning the focus of Titans coach Justin Holbrook is undoubtedly on the future. The league-leading Panthers, also generally regarded as a "young" team, have just one player in their spine under 25 (24-year-old Jarome Luai) and a group of star forwards in their late 20s. Importantly, the core of that Penrith team played together for several years before becoming NRL powerhouses. The Titans are short on experience but clearly have talent, and if the club manages to keep this group together there's every chance they can be among the contenders in a few years' time.
- Dominic Brock
Mitch Barnett's six-week suspension was appropriate
Not real: Newcastle forward Mitch Barnett raised his elbow and made contact with the jaw of Panthers forward Chris Smith on the weekend, and was sent off following video review of the incident. He faced the NRL judiciary on Tuesday night where his defence team argued that he had been careless, but that he had not deliberately aimed to make contact with Smith. They also argued that the lack of a facial fracture should lessen the sentence. The NRL argued that he should be banned for eight weeks, while Barnett's team argued for four and the panel split the difference by giving him the six.
True intent is something that can never really be determined, so should be left out of the equation, unless something was clearly accidental. We also enter dangerous territory when the resulting injury determines the severity of the penalty. Smith played no further part in the game after failing his HIA and will miss this weekend as well.
What the world has learned in recent years is that the cumulative effects of concussion can be debilitating and life destroying in the long run. Just because Smith's jaw wasn't fractured doesn't mean that real damage wasn't done. An eight-week suspension would have sent a message to all that whether careless or intentional, such contact to the head of another player is unacceptable.
- Darren Arthur
Ensemble coaching the way to go for Origin
Real: New Queensland coach Billy Slater has called on former teammates and fellow Maroons legends Cameron Smith and Johnathan Thurston to help him plot the downfall of New South Wales in this year's State of Origin series.
Origin is such a unique coaching experience in that there is such a short time to bring together the best available players in the state and have them ready to perform at their best in rugby league's toughest arena. There may be time for basic game plans and strategy, but a lot of it is about preparing newcomers for the realities of Origin as well as having all members of the squad ready and fired up for the challenge. To that end, it must be advantageous to have several players who have been there and achieved great things for their state. There are no other names that fit that description better for Queensland than Smith and Thurston.
The Blues have employed a similar system, surrounding Laurie Daley with former players such as Danny Buderus and Andrew Johns. Like those two former Blues, Smith and Thurston will also be able to work with the positions of hooker and half, to fine-tune the players filling those vital roles. Could Slater, Smith and Thurston be back to haunt New South Wales all over again? If they can translate their on-field success to the coaching caper, the Blues might well be facing a resurgent Queensland in 2022.
- Darren Arthur